Unisa CIO takes stock of his career while on vacation

For two years, Joe Gagliardi has been pondering where to go next in his professional life. While he loves his job, the 48-year-old CIO of Unisa America Inc., a manufacturer of women’s shoes and accessories, doesn’t see much of a future for himself in the CIO position.

For one thing, he considers it to be a young man’s job because of its breakneck pace. And while he contemplates becoming CIO of a larger company, Gagliardi doesn’t think he’d enjoy dealing with the politics inside big enterprises. But it wasn’t until this past May when he vacationed in Jamaica with his wife and a group of acquaintances that his next step (and a plan of action for getting there) came into focus.

Gagliardi’s vacation-inspired career assessment is hardly unusual. Vacations are the perfect opportunity for mulling career decisions, says Carl Gilchrist, North American leader for Spencer Stuart’s CIO practice.

Gilchrist can’t begin to count the number of times CIOs have called him upon returning from vacation to tell him that they want to make a career change. Vacations are so opportune for taking stock of one’s career, Gilchrist says, because when you’re away from work, you are more detached from your job’s stresses and can gain a perspective on whether you still enjoy your career.

For Gagliardi, getting away from the workaday world (where everyone around him is stressed) to stay at a resort surrounded by a bunch of entrepreneurs helped him see what professional direction he should take. As he glanced around the resort’s pool at his wealthy traveling companions, he noticed they didn’t once mention the pressures of their jobs.

It dawned on him what these men have in common: They’re all established, self-employed businessmen. Gagliardi saw that the main difference between him and these men was that they had all taken a risk, worked hard to get their own businesses off the ground and were now reaping the rewards. He, on the other hand, had chosen to spend his entire career working for someone else and, subsequently, has always worried about his fate.

Gagliardi realized then that his ticket out of the professional holding pattern he’d been stuck in for the past two years was to take a risk of his own and start his own business.

What attracts him most about starting his own business is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that his future is in his hands, not someone else’s. “Not only do you make your own schedule, but you succeed or fail based on your own hard work and not someone else’s mistake,” he says. “For instance, I’m worried at my company that we don’t sell enough shoes to stay profitable.” Beyond implementing cost-effective systems, he adds, “there’s nothing (much) I can do about it.”

So what’s Gagliardi planning to do next? As excited as he is to start his own business, he doesn’t want to take on too much change too soon, so he doesn’t plan on quitting his day job as CIO. He intends to start a Web-based business on the side importing and selling an herbal supplement he’s been taking under his doctor’s supervision to control his cholesterol. Gagliardi wants to start out small so that he can place and fill orders during evenings and weekends in order to minimize his investment and any potential losses if he doesn’t succeed.

“Hopefully we’ll get more orders than we can handle, but if it doesn’t happen, we’re not out much,” he says. “And if this doesn’t work, it will be another thing.”

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